I was halfway through To Kill a Mockingbird, taking breaks from Lee’s masterpiece to research book titles set in specific states, when this map from Business Insider began making its way around the bookternet.
Most of the discussion around it involved methodology – it does not depict the best-selling book set in each state, or the most popular, or the most beloved, but the most famous, and how on earth did they determine which book was most famous anyway? I would have thought Prince of Tides was more famous than Secret Life of Bees for South Carolina, but who knows how to measure fame. The authors of the map certainly don’t tell us.
While the map caused a sensation on book podcasts because it mystifies as to how the authors picked these titles, the methodology of this map doesn’t matter for my purposes. What matters is that it came along right when my creative juices were really flowing around a project I’d been contemplating for months, and had finally committed myself to taking on.
I am going to tour the United States through literature.
My husband and I have moved a lot: from Georgia to Maryland, to Florida and Maine, to Minnesota, and finally, to Virginia. Each time we moved, I researched our new home not in welcome bureaus or newcomer guides, but through fiction. Each well-set novel has taught me about the land and its people, its culture, its history, and its idiosyncracies.
Through those reading projects, and through the past year and a half of self-discovery on my Butterfly Mind blog, I have found recurring themes in my life: I love a strong sense of place, and I love immersing myself in a place via fiction. I am passionate about reading, and when I read I often go for setting. While I kind of already knew that, what I didn’t realize about myself is that most of my favorite books are set in America: the prairies of My Ántonia, the plains of Lonesome Dove, the red clay of Gone With the Wind, the marshes of Prince of Tides. Now that we’ve settled down and we won’t have the opportunity to travel our country in real life for a while, I’ve got a wanderlust that can only realistically be sated through reading.
I plan to read 3 books set in each of the 50 states in the US, plus the District of Columbia with the following authorships represented:
- women authors
- men authors
- non-Caucasian authors
I want to see each state from different points of view. Whenever possible, I will read authors who are native to or are longtime residents of the state they set their fiction in, for whom the land is a part of their psyche. Beyond authorship, after reading a Science paper linking literary fiction and empathy, I plan to read literary award winners, but I also want to throw fun and funny titles in as well. I’m not sure how New Jersey natives will feel about this, but when I think of New Jersey, I think of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. And she makes me happy, so I’ll be reading her alongside Philip Roth when I get to Jersey.
So that map up above? I already see several titles I can’t wait to read, and several I’m sure I will bypass. The map is a starting point, but I will dig up other resources as well, including your recommendations. So if you can confirm (or one-up) a title on that map, or if you have a favorite book set in a particular state, in which the sense of place is so memorable it becomes another character in the narrative, please feed me your titles in the comments here, or click on the Suggest a title link above and leave a title there. Thank you, and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you!
This was originally published November 23, 2013 on Andrea Badgley’s Butterfly Mind.